- Pinson Mounds
name =Pinson Mounds
nrhp_type = nhl
caption = Sauls' Mound (Mound 9) at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park
Madison County, Tennessee
built =0-499 A.D.
governing_body = TDECThe Pinson Mounds comprise a prehistoric Native American complex located in
Madison County, Tennessee. The complex, which includes 17 mounds, an earthen geometric enclosure, and numerous habitation areas, was most likely built during the Middle Woodland period (c. 1-500 A.D.).
The Pinson Mounds are now part of Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park, one of two archaeological parks in Tennessee (the other being Old Stone Fort near Manchester). Pinson Mounds is a
National Historic Landmarkand is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Pinson Mounds are located on a plateau-like upland above the wetlands that line the banks of the South Fork of the
Forked Deer River. The river and its wetlands form the complex's southern boundary. The Pinson Mounds are located amidst three distinctive biotic zones: the oakforests atop the plateau, the cypressforests in the wet bottomlands, and the beechforests on the slopes between the uplands and the bottomlands. The ground is mostly composed of Tertiary periodrocks known for producing high-quality clay. [Robert Mainfort (ed.), et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area: 1974, 1975, and 1978 Field Seasons" (Nashville, Tenn.: Tennessee Department of Conservation - Division of Archaeology, 1980), 3.]
The mounds complex can be roughly divided into three sections— the Inner section, situated at the center of the complex around Sauls' Mound, the Western (or Ozier) section, and the Eastern section, which includes the geometric enclosure. A stream known as Hudson Branch runs perpendicular to the Forked Deer River and divides the Inner section from the Western section. The Eastern and Western sections are both roughly 1,500 meters from the Inner section. ( [http://www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/PinsonMounds/map.pdf click for map] )
The Pinson Mounds complex is currently managed by the
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The Western section is managed by the Tennessee Division of Forestry and includes a nursery and irrigation pond. Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park is located appx. 2.5 miles east of the town of Pinson and approximately 10 miles southeast of Jackson.
The Pinson Mounds complex covers approximately 400 acres (1.6 km²) and contains at least 30 mounds, 17 of which have been identified as being completely or partially constructed by prehistoric peoples. [Mark Norton, "The Pinson Mounds Complex," "West Tennessee Historical Society Papers" 55 (2001). Copy obtained at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park.] The mounds range in height from the prominent 72-foot Sauls' Mound to barely-noticeable rises. Most mounds were probably constructed between 100 and 300 A.D., based on
radiocarbon datingand the predominance of Woodland period artifacts found at the site. The following are major features at the Pinson Mounds site:
Inner Complex [Information in this section obtained from on-site interpretive signs, except where otherwise noted. Information accessed: 8 December 2007. Dimensions converted to metric for consistency.]
* Sauls' Mound (Mound 9), at the center of the complex. The mound was named after John Sauls, the owner of the property before its purchase by the state. Sauls' Mound is the second-highest prehistoric mound in the United States. [Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas, " [http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=P031 Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park] ." "The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture", 2002. Retrieved: 9 December 2007.] The mound is rectangular in formation, with each corner aligned with one of the four
cardinal directions. The mound's function was believed to be ceremonial. A platform has been constructed atop the mound for park visitors. Dimensions: base— 112 x 91 meters, height— 22 meters.
* Mound 10, a few meters to the east of Sauls' Mound. Mound 10 is believed to have been a
platform moundwith a ceremonial function. Dimensions: base— 61 x 40 meters, height— 1.3 meters.
* Mound 11 Sector, a few meters to the north of Sauls' Mound, behind the museum. Mound 11 is a natural rise that is believed to have been a habitation area during the Middle Woodland period.
* Mound 12, several meters southwest of Sauls' Mound. Mound 12 was a burial mound built upon an Early Woodland habitation area. Dimensions: base— 23 x 17 meters, height— 1.3 meters.
* Mound 14 Sector, several meters southwest of Sauls' Mound. The Mound 14 Sector was a late-Woodland/early-Mississippian habitation area.
* Mound 15, several hundred meters southwest of Sauls' Mound. Part of Mound 15 has been destroyed by cultivation. Dimensions: base— 46 x 50 meters, height— appx. 1 meter.
* Mound 17, several hundred meters southeast of Sauls' Mound. Dimensions: appx. 12 meters long with a height of 1 meter. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 37.]
Eastern Section [Information in this section obtained from on-site interpretive signs, except where otherwise noted. Information accessed: 8 December 2007. Dimensions converted to metric for consistency.]
* The Eastern Citadel, an earthen geometric enclosure located approximately 1,500 meters east of Sauls' Mound. William Myer gave the enclosure its present name in the early 1900s, although its function is believed to have been primarily ceremonial. The walls form a near-perfect semi-circle with a diameter of 366 meters, enclosing approximately .06 km² (16.5 acres). The height of the walls is, on average, appx. 1.5 meters. The enclosed area is not level, with the western edge being appx. 12 meters lower than the eastern edge.
* Mound 29, a rectangular "platform" mound located along the eastern edge of the geometric enclosure. Mound 29 is aligned with Sauls' Mound in the direction of the
equinoxsunrise. Dimensions: base— 49 x 52 meters, height— 3.5 meters.
* Mound 30, a bird-shaped mound a few meters south of Mound 29. The bird shape is thought to have been due to recent cultivation and subsequent erosion. Dimensions: approximately 24 meters long with a height 1 meter.
* Mound 28, a rectangular platform mound located appx. 1,500 meters northeast of Sauls' Mound and several hundred meters north of the Eastern Citadel. Mound 28 is almost aligned with Sauls' Mound in the direction of the summer solstice sunrise. Dimensions: base— 62 x 65 meters, height— 4 meters.
Western (Ozier) Section
* The Ozier Mound (Mound 5), a rectangular platform mound with an earthen ramp facing northeast. At 33 feet, the Ozier Mound is the second-largest mound in the complex. Dimensions: appx. 80 meters in diameter, height of 10 meters. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 54.]
* The Twin Mounds (Mound 6), a double-conical mound located a few meters south of the Ozier Mound. The Twin Mounds were burial mounds. Base appx. 30 x 50 meters. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 54.]
* Mound 31, a burial mound located a few meters south of the Ozier Mound. Base appx. 40 x 60 meters. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 54.]
* The Cochran Area, a site located appx. 200 meters west of the Ozier Mound section. The Cochran Area is believed to have been a temporary habitation area. The Cochran area covers appx. 5,000 m² (1.2 acres). [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 31.]
Pinson Mounds in recorded history
Chickasawceded much of West Tennessee in 1818, land speculator Joel Pinson arrived in what is now Madison County to survey the area. Pinson "discovered" the complex named after him in 1820, although the complex received scant attention until a Jackson-area journalist named J.G. Cisco began writing about it in the late 1800s. Cisco's articles drew the interest of the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1916 the Institute dispatched archaeologist William Myer to investigate the site. Myer suggested that the entire complex was built according to a master plan, and created a map for the site. In 1947, the Tennessee Division of Forestry purchased the Western section of the Pinson site. [Norton, "The Pinson Mounds Complex," (2001).]
Archaeological surveys and excavations
At the request of the Jackson Archaeological Society and the
National Park Service, University of Tennesseearchaeologists Fred Fisher and C.H. McNutt carried out the first major excavation of the Pinson Mounds in December 1961. In the Mound 14 Sector, Fisher and McNutt discovered the remains of a 21 x 18 ft. (6.4m x 5.5m) house surrounded by a posthole-lined wall-trench and containing a central hearth and storage pit. Based largely on the vast amount of pre-Mississippian debris found at the site and radiocarbon datingof charcoal, Fisher and McNutt concluded that the Pinson Mounds were probably built during the Middle Woodland period. [Fred Fisher and C.H. McNutt, "Test Excavations at Pinson Mounds, 1961," "Tennessee Archaeologist" 18, no. 1 (1962), 1-11.]
Excavations by Dan Morse and Richard Polhemus in 1963 uncovered what they believed was an oval-shaped house, a large hearth, and various refuse pits. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area", 4.] Morse and Polhemus agreed that the mounds were mostly built during the Middle Woodland period, and the state purchased the property in 1965. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same year. [Norton, "The Pinson Mounds Complex," (2001).]
In the 1970s, John Broster of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology carried out extensive investigations of the site's Western section and the Mound 12 Sector. Broster uncovered a human cremation pit and evidence of Early Woodland period habitation at Mound 12. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 16-22.] Broster's team also found a number of "exotic" artifacts at the Cochran area, suggesting that it may have been a "manufacture" area for grave goods, or even a regional trade center. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 31-32.]
In the 1980s, Robert Mainfort discovered 6 tombs in the Twin Mounds, one of which contained the remains of 8 young women wearing headdresses with copper adornments. Another tomb had four older men, one of whom had been buried with two round rattles bearing abstract designs. Mainfort also uncovered a single burial in Mound 31 and evidence of food offerings at the base of the mounds. [Norton, "The Pinson Mounds Complex," (2001).]
Excavations carried out in anticipation of the construction of park facilities uncovered a possible habitation area at Mound 11 and a large number of 19th-century artifacts. [Ann Toplovich, "Archaeological Mitigations at Pinson Mounds (40MD1) State Archaeological Area: 1978," "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Area: 1974, 1975, and 1978 Field Seasons" (Nashville, Tenn.: Tennessee Department of Conservation - Division of Archaeology, 1980), 92-99.] In the late 1990s, four additional mounds were verified as prehistoric, bringing the total to 17. [Norton, "The Pinson Mounds Complex," (2001).]
The function of the Pinson Mounds
The Middle Woodland natives most likely built the Pinson Mounds primarily for ceremonial purposes, although their motives have yet to be established definitively. At least three of the mounds— 6, 12, and 31— contain burials or cremations. [Mainfort and Kwas, " [http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=P031 Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park] ," (2002).] Excavations have turned up a relatively scant amount of cultural material (e.g., arrowheads and pottery fragments), which points to a lack of permanent habitation at the Pinson Mounds site. [Mainfort, et al., "Archaeological Investigations at Pinson Mounds", 50.]
There is some evidence that the layout of the Pinson Mounds might be due to astronomical alignment. The corners of Sauls' Mound, for instance, face the four cardinal directions. The Eastern and Western sections of the complex are roughly equidistant (appx. 1,500 meters) from the Inner complex, although the alignment isn't exact. Mound 29 in the Eastern section is aligned with Sauls' Mound in the direction of the
equinoxsunrise, and Mound 28 is "almost" aligned with Sauls' in the direction of the Summer solsticesunrise. To date, no mound has been found in the direction of the Winter solstice sunrise. [Norton, "The Pinson Mounds Complex," (2001).]
Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park
The park's museum is built within a "replica" of a platform mound. Its exhibits include artifacts obtained from the various excavations at the Pinson site, as well as various other artifacts from around the region. The museum is also home to the West Tennessee Regional Archaeology offices and an archaeological library.
The park contains approximately 6 miles of walking trails, most of which explore the mounds and associated features. South of Sauls' Mound, a boardwalk looks out over the South Fork of the Forked Deer River and its wetlands. The park is also the site of Archaeofest, an event held every September that celebrates the site's prehistoric builders.
Pinson Mounds in fiction
A novel by
R. S. Pierpointentitled " After the Mardi Gras" tells the tale of a Portuguese sailor who wanders to the Indian mounds at Pinson hundreds of years ago, marries the chief's granddaughter and founds a line of Melungeons.
*Old Stone Fort
* [http://state.tn.us/environment/parks/PinsonMounds/ Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park] — official site
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